Published Thursday 21st November 2019

Sustainability is high on the agenda for big business currently, and with good reason. Increasing pressure both from law-making governments and decision-making consumers is forcing all companies to evaluate their environmental impact. Many companies are already looking at reducing plastic use and improving emissions standards, but for complete sustainability, a broader picture should be drawn.

Multiple studies over the last twelve months have labelled the United Kingdom as one of the least sustainable countries when it comes to electronic waste (e-waste). While plastics and petrol have received much of the public attention, e-waste is a growing concern. Sustainability is a broad issue that affects both company reputation and profits. To achieve in both regards, businesses need to be considering their waste across all cost areas.

Throwaway Culture

One of the most notable reports into the issue of domestic e-waste came in February, courtesy of the watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN). According to their two-year investigation, the UK was the biggest illegal exporter of e-waste to developing countries in the EU. Due to the complex nature and toxic components of electronics, disposing of them can be a costly process. Further research indicates that Britain produces 1.4 million tonnes of e-waste every year. 70% of that waste is unaccounted for, including products in landfill, fly-tipped or illegally exported. In response to these studies, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launched an enquiry into the UK’s growing e-waste problem in June 2019. The EAC commented that their report would be “investigating the UK’s e-waste industry and looking at how we can create a circular economy for electronic goods.”

In the UK, we have a reputation for being quick adopters of new technologies. Our position as the third-largest e-commerce market in the world after the USA and China is evidence of the fact. As we have brought more technology into our lives and the speed of technological development has increased, our emotional connection to products has lessened. According to further research, less than 25% of people in the UK would look to repair a piece of technology if it began to falter. If something stops working, we instinctively look to replace the whole product, leading to these substantial waste figures.

A throwaway culture is effecting both UK consumers and businesses. Born from shortened product cycles and an increasing desire for convenience, many of us are discarding products that may only need minor repairs. There are also problems with regards to recycling said products, which links back to the broader sustainability debate. According to the Nordic Council of Ministers, trying to lead on e-waste collection in the EU, 20% of materials in electronics are plastics, many of which are currently non-recyclable. If governments want to combat the issues presented by material usability, questions regarding the complex nature of e-waste will have to be answered.

The Cost of Sustainability

E-waste is a considerable, albeit undermentioned issue, particularly for industries looking to reduce their environmental impact. However, the pressing concern here is that this waste is amongst the most costly for companies. Replacing electronic equipment is not cheap, and businesses could be hurting their expenses through incorrect decisions regarding faulty goods.

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to replace a product, such as when upscaling to more advanced technology. Given the cost of such products, however, even simple repair programmes could make a sizeable impact when it comes to overall expenses. Going forward, a reduction in e-waste would also contribute to a company’s sustainability image, especially as the public’s environmental net begins to stretch beyond plastic and petrol.

Here at Expense Reduction Analysts, we’re experts at helping major UK businesses improve their sustainability and profits through effective waste expense management. Our specialist teams have worked across a range of industries, in cost areas, including general and hazardous waste and recycling, among others. If you are interested in improving your company’s sustainability while also reducing expenses, why not contact us today and see what we could do for you?